• Live Reviews

The Polyphonic Spree at Park West on May 16, 2012

written by: on May 18, 2012

The members of The Polyphonic Spree, who performed while wearing handmade white robes with big red hearts sewn onto their fronts, have yet to reveal themselves as a sinister religious cult. But that’s the kind of thing you hold your breath for, because when you see them perform, they almost seem too good to be true. They practically attack their songs with the energy and blinding genuineness of the newly converted; singing about microorganisms, running and the sun, as though it’s all aspects of one glowing something at the center of their existence, and they want to share it with you. Imagine The Flaming Lips at their most mystic, with a little more Broadway thrown in.

You don’t get to see the band assemble. They stretch a long bit of red cloth across the front of the stage, like an enormous elastic belt. Once ready to go, frontman Tim DeLaughter cut through with a pair of scissors as the music piped up, taking appropriate dramatic pauses to cut off smaller bits to toss to the fans. Finally, the cloth was sheared in half, and snapped dramatically to each side, revealing instrumentalists, four backup vocalists swaying and harmonizing in the kind of synchronized line that was thought to have become extinct with the girl-groups of the ’60s, and in the center of it all stood DeLaughter, grinning like a madman, and waving his arms in some combination of conducting an orchestra, jogging in place, and (literally) trying to take off.

Things didn’t slow down from there. Despite the fairly short set, there was little in the way of wasted time—with very little in the way of banter or jokes—The Polyphonic Spree preferred to make the show worthwhile with the spectacle of lights, confetti canons, and mere stage presence. Songs like “Running Away” and “Get Up And Go,” already high-energy standouts, were positively transformed by the combination of live sound and stagecraft into something transcendent. The audience was constantly made to feel like they were a part of something, whether it was by inducing the audience to harmonize as one to a single note, or in one memorable occasion where DeLaughter, noticing the many iPhone cameras aimed at the stage, took out his own iPhone and began to record the audience.

Reminiscent of the orchestral feel of their second album Together We’re Heavy, the Spree seamlessly wove one song into the next, the only break coming midway through with DeLaughter meekly apologizing for being away from the city so long.

He responded to an audience member suggesting that the band play tomorrow night by shouting out “We’re playing the Empty Bottle tomorrow, then!” which got a cheer even after DeLaughter confirmed he was joking. The band also covered The Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” a song with a natural theatricality that complemented the band wonderfully.

If there’s one area where the band shines, it’s the big finish, which is probably why they managed to get several in, over the course of the show. After finishing their set with “Section 19 (When the Fool Becomes A King),” a song seemingly tailored for a big, cheering, clapping finale, the band returned to the stage for an encore that was nearly half as long as the set, weaving bits of “Light and Day,” “Section 11,” “The Championship” and more than one reprise of “Section 19” into a great mass of sound and light.

The finale was equally grand. Everyone raised their hands as though in a cult, paused and resumed singing as confetti cannons burst clouds of paper snippets. Smoke machines drafted past the crowd, and the band, in conclusion, took their bows and gradually left the stage. One by one, each member of The Polyphonic Spree took a layer of the song with them, leaving DeLaughter alone with the audience, singing in quiet a capella.

The band managed to mix its two most recent songs into the set list, but aside from those two already released singles there weren’t any new glimpses of what might be on the Polyphonic Spree’s next album. DeLaughter ended the evening by thanking all the fans who have supported the band throughout the years, promising new material in the future. New material or not, this is a band that must be seen. They are thrilled to be here, and they will make you thrilled to be here, too.